Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Aheli Sen (Fashion and Beauty Expert)  on 19th Nov 2020

Hyperpigmentation: Is licorice the answer?

Is licorice the answer?

When one breaks down the words' hyperpigmentation', one gets 'hyper,' which means excessive or extra, and 'pigmentation,' which means the skin tissue's color. Together, "hyperpigmentation" implies an excess of pigment being produced in the skin.

When melanin produced in the skin is more than normal, it breaks out dark patches, spots, darkened skin, or discoloration. You can consider it as a term for dark pigmentation in patches on the skin.

The skin's defense mechanism to environmental trauma causes the production of more melanin on the skin and less of the same. It can occur in multiple forms like a scratch, a cut, wounds, and then stuff like pimples or acne. Environmental pollution and exposure to the sun daily also decide how much melanin the skin needs to produce.

This trauma results in the skin retaliating and stimulating melanin formation by the skin cells to create a barrier for itself from further damage. Melanocytes, the skin cells, upon stimulation, move to the skin's surface, where it then forms patches of dark skin, spots, sunspots, and discoloration.

Acne, pimples, blemishes, and skin conditions like eczema often cause the skin to break out. As a response to inflammation, post-acne hyperpigmentation emerges; it is a way of the skin healing post-trauma.

Now that we have a fair idea of what hyperpigmentation is, let us look at the critical part of this article: how to get rid of it

Licorice is often considered one of the best ways to get rid of hyperpigmentation. 

Licorice, its properties, and how it helps get rid of hyperpigmentation. 

Extensively cultivated in India, licorice is an extract obtained from the roots of Glycyrrhiza Glabra Linnea. It also grows extensively in Southern Europe and West Asia. Licorice has phytochemical properties that fight hyperpigmentation.

It has about 300 compounds that are anti-bacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial. Licorice extract helps get rid of hyperpigmentation through the dispersal of melanin. It decreases free radical production by inhibiting melanin biosynthesis and cyclooxygenase activity.

Licorice provides several benefits. It has been of primary use to treat disorders since ancient times. It thus also makes up for benefitting the skin in more than one way.

From lightening skin to treating hyperpigmentation, licorice works well for certain skin conditions. This herbal extract is the way to treat eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation. It is used in volumes in the food, medicine, skincare, and beverage industries due to its various beneficial properties. 

The benefits of licorice to the skin: 

1. Production of tyrosinase minimized to combat discoloration:

Melanin production can be quite a complicated process. At the base of the process is an enzyme, aka tyrosinase. Licorice extracts stop the production of this enzyme, resulting in the prevention of dark spots or hyperpigmentation. 

2. Removal of excess melanin:

Licorice extract is responsible for brightening skin in more ways than one. Licorice extract contains liquirtin, an active compound that disperses and removes existing melanin from the skin. Thus, it helps remove the skin's darkness and prevents the same from happening again in the future. 

3. Potent antioxidant:

Just like a bunch of other plant-based extracts, licorice contains flavonoid, a component rich in antioxidants that helps decrease reactive species of oxygen which thus, prevents the skin from aging and further discoloring.

4. Anti-inflammatory benefits:

while the flavonoids are anti-inflammatory by themselves, there is another molecule present in licorice extracts called licochalcone A that inhibits two inflammatory pointers that trigger the inflammatory ripple effect. 

5. Helps in controlling oil produced by the skin:

Even though this topic has been debated before, there is evidence that suggests that the compound of licorice extract licochalcone A has the added benefit of regulating the production of oil by the skin. 

6. Ayurvedic Treatment:

It is also used in Ayurveda to treat dandruff

So how soon can one see results in controlling hyperpigmentation by licorice extracts? 

Lanyifan Rani, Global brand manager of Skin Inc., confirms. 

For the soothing effect, you can feel it on the first application. However, the antioxidant and relieving redness and irritation [takes a] few days, For the skin lightening, you need about a month due to skin's renewal process, so [keep used consistently for] at least 28 days.

Let us now look at other ingredients and a few tips to help hyperpigmentation or even prevent the same: 

Ingredients that you should be looking for are as follows:

1. Hydroquinone -

Hydroquinone is used to lighten the dark patches of skin (also known as hyperpigmentation, melasma, "liver spots," "age spots," freckles) caused by pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone medicine, or injury to your skin. This medicine works by blocking the procedure/process in the skin that leads to discoloration. 

2. Kojic acid -

Kojic acid is a natural metabolite that helps in lightening skin by preventing tyrosine production. Tyrosine is an amino acid compound that is responsible for the production of skin pigment or melanin.
Kojic acid has even been found to be a very safe product to be used on the skin. It is not a toxicant; chronic, acute, and reproductive studies have proven the same. It gets absorbed in the skin slowly and has never been found to reach a health risk threshold. 

3. Vitamin C -

It acts as an excellent antioxidant for the skin. Vitamin C triggers the skin to produce more collagen and elastin to help the skin self heal due to its high acidity. It helps slow down premature aging as it can make the skin produce more collagen. Vitamin C inhibits melanin production, reducing the number of dark spots and discoloration skin that happens. If used before dark spots and age spots occur, Vitamin C can prevent the same from forming. Vitamin C does not alter the natural skin color; it only helps fade out dark brown spots. 

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4. Vitamin E

(A powerful/high classic duo with Vitamin C) – Vitamin E is not too potent by itself at the treatment of hyperpigmentation. It is best to club it with Vitamin C to yield the best benefits. However, to some extent, it does help hyperpigmentation by itself. 

5. Azelaic Acid –

It is a naturally occurring acid found in wheat, barley, and rye. Its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties help treat rosacea and acne, both of which cause hyperpigmentation. 

6. Arbutin -

Composed of hydroquinone, arbutin is attached to a sugar group. It allows arbutin to inhibit tyrosinase. It also acts as a reserve that releases hydroquinone slowly. Once absorbed into the skin, enzymes within the body can cleave off the sugar group from Arbutin, releasing hydroquinone. This acts like a built-in safety valve, preventing the skin from being exposed to too much hydroquinone at once. 

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7. Niacinamide -

Niacinamide is one of the three types of Vitamin B3 found in whole grains and certain green vegetables. The synthetic form of this ingredient is what goes into making the serums in question. Serums with 5% or higher niacinamide concentrations lighten dark spots; increased collagen production ensures the process. Niacinamide reduces redness and inflammation of the skin caused by eczema, acne, etc. 

The above-mentioned ingredients are critical to get rid of and prevent hyperpigmentation. However, it does not mean that there are no other ingredients to help in fading dark spots.

All these ingredients/components work mainly to inhibit the 'tyrosinase enzyme' responsible for melanin's birth. With them on your side, you can gain some control of your skin!

Another quick step to take to brighten your skin is to help accelerate the skin's regeneration process via exfoliation. Using AHA or retinol products are the best for this, as they work through smoothing off the "hyperpigmented" skin cells on the surface and replace them with new skin cells. Gone are the old skin cells!

However, it is never an overnight kind of thing, so being patient is key with whatever product you are using to see results! Persistence and patience. 

The last word 

Last but certainly not least, we've got one more step for you, which is always to wear sunscreen!
It does not matter what your skin type, color, or condition is. The skin always needs UV protection.
This is important to achieve and maintain bright skin as sunscreen shields your skin and prevents UV-rays from instigating melanocytes to produce more melanin.